29 September 2021, The Tablet

‘With a sorrowful heart …’ - the scandal of abusive priests

by Tomáš Halík

‘With a sorrowful heart …’ - the scandal of abusive priests

‘Today, the abuse scandal is playing a role similar to that played in the High Middle Ages by the indulgence scandals that accelerated the Reformation’
Alamy/Interfoto (woodcut attributed to Hans Holbein the Elder)


The scandal of abusive priests has devastated thousands of lives and exposed a crisis of faith. Addressing an international conference on the issue in Warsaw last month, one of Europe’s leading Catholic intellectuals argued that only profound reform can save the institutional Church

In a spirit of humility and with a sorrowful heart – in spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito – I want to touch on one of the most painful wounds of the Church. Even the mystical body of the Risen Christ bears wounds, and if we ignored these wounds, if we did not want to touch them, we would not have the right to say with the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”. According to an old legend, the devil himself appeared to St Martin in the form of Christ. But Martin asked him: where are your wounds? A Christ without wounds, a Church without wounds, a faith without wounds, is just a diabolical illusion. With courage in the healing and liberating power of the truth, we want to touch the wounds inflicted by Catholic clergy and church officials on the defenceless, especially on children and teenagers, and thus on the credibility of the Church in today’s world.

To understand this crisis and to accept it as kairos, as a challenge and an opportunity to mature our Church and our faith, we need to see and address the phenomenon of clerical abuse in a broader context. The survivors and victims of abuse must be at the centre of our concern. We must give them all the legal, ­psychological and spiritual support they need. The guilty must be punished, and helped on the path of repentance and healing. Practical measures must be taken to minimise the risk of children and vulnerable adults being abused in the future. But all these important steps are only a small part of what we are obliged to do.

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